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Are You Still Taking Notes

I can write anywhere. When I make it a priority – when I let myself make my writing practice a priority – I enjoy the trappings. The desk set up just so; pens and notebook ready, for whatever comes through that isn’t the topic I’m working on, or doodles and notes about pictures to add. My brain feels like it’s always firing, so I always have some version of a to-do list handy to catch the fleeting thoughts of “call the vet,” “get creamer.” There is a window nearby, natural light softening as it shines through the curtains, or lit from the other side by the warm glow of the desk lamp. There are plants within reach; stuck on a thought, I check the dirt for dampness, and usually add it to my list before rising for a stretch break and to cross it off. There may be music playing, there may not; it depends on my mood, and that’ll change during the writing. If certain tiny humans and old puppies didn’t demand my attention, I could sometimes move hours into the evening before noticing the shadows. 

When writing makes itself a priority, I can and will write anywhere. On the back of an envelope off someone’s desk with a quick, “can I use this?” Post-its, receipts, bank statements. The Notes app on my phone serves as a catch-all, thoughts recorded while driving, intermittent list items, ideas to explore for a blog post. I’ve written entire journal entries on it, if you can call furiously moving my thumbs clutched around a three-inch light in the dark as my brain races ahead beyond the screen “writing.” I do. Right now, I’m sitting cross-legged on the cold wooden floor at the front of my new apartment. My posture is terrible (she says, straightening her spine as she types this), and my ass is frozen. In front of me is the thick braided rug that used to lay in Lucy’s room; I set up old lady Ella a little nest at my knee with a bathmat and the couple of towels I could quickly find. She’s tucked up against me, a scraggly black crescent of snoring dog. 

Yesterday was the day I moved the three of us into the apartment; the movers came the day before with the contents of the storage unit in Vermont, which apparently did not include a single chair. I had ordered an IKEA sleeper sofa which was supposed to be delivered yesterday and never showed (item for to-do list: call IKEA 10am). My desk is where I want it to be, but without the chair, I default to the couch – or where it should be. My pre-caffeinated brain put me in the right place, whereas my barely-caffeinated brain is telling me to move forward a few feet and join Ella on the rug. Yet my fingers keep moving, and my cold ass stays in place.

I am on a constant search for tools and tricks to maximize productivity, provide structure, and enjoy the results. Yes, enjoy – a deliberate choice of words, because using tools and structure to creates something – whether that’s a piece of art, a blog post, or a work product – sparks true joy (I will never KonMari my toolbox, and you can’t make me). One thing I stumbled across recently was a new app called GoalsWon. I chanced upon the opportunity to beta test it, and thus far, I’m finding it helpful. I’m using it specifically for my writing practice; I wanted something to keep me on track in this time of crazy transition, when nothing feels stable, and I don’t even have my coffeemaker unpacked.

On moving day, I set two goals in regards to my writing: make my daily goal of 500 words, and get my writing space set up. I hit my word count easily in the morning, pouring out my angst about the day, and how bullshit it is to have to be doing this. Later I muttered to Hawthorne that I never thought I’d be carrying them and our son under one arm to the car, I figured I’d be dragging them both; a kid-at-heart and kiddo not wanting to leave the playground when it was time to go. 

My other goal didn’t happen. My immediate thought was that I had failed; I wanted to get my writing space set up, and I did not. I automatically cast myself as both judge and defendant, Lady Justice peeking out from her blindfold to tip the scales and let me sink into the cold, comforting arms of the part of me who somehow always feels so undeserving. Reframing this as data doesn’t release me; it doesn’t give me the familiar path of saying, “well, guess I’ve gone and fucked it up again, what a surprise.” That loop of failure to accomplish equaling my failure as a person is a deep-set track; the banks are steep, and once I’m in, it’s easier to stay than grind my way out. 

One intention I set this year is to be kinder to myself; so rather than thinking about not meeting the goal as failure, I am trying to reframe it as a simple fact, one of two possible outcomes. Making this choice to deliberately turn failure into data is not easy; recently, one of my best friends told me that I could squeeze failure out of a tomato. It’s funny, because it’s true.

And clearly, the fact that I did not set up my writing space is OK. Because here I am, cold ass and snoring dog, banging away at the keys. 

I let go of writing for a long time; truly, it was a different world. The bright blue folder I’ve carried with me, hidden, house to house for over twenty years is ripped at the corners, the shine on it dulled from years of being tucked away. It is thick with my angsty teenage poetry, songs that I wrote in the shower, and fragments of stories that were not my own. I have been collecting these lines, building up the case to remind myself in ways that no photograph ever could of what my passion is; an indelible reminder of the kid that I was and the dreams that she had.

I had just recommitted to writing this blog when my world was utterly shattered for the second time in as many years. Hawthorne spent their last minutes asleep in our comfortable bed, Ella snoring alongside them while I sat with our daughter who was asleep in her swing. It was a sunny Saturday morning; I was awake, sitting at my desk, iced coffee going warm by my elbow. I was writing when the sky fell in. Exuent Hawthorne. Scene. 

One of my friends, a particularly badass and fearless woman, somehow held onto the thread of my writing through the chaos that became my world that week. She asked what no one else did, what I’m sure no one else was even thinking about; was I going to publish my blog on time? I told her, with some pride, it was already in the editing phase. One week after Hawthorne died, I met my scheduled biweekly goal when I published the obituary I couldn’t give to the papers. 

Part of why I had left writing locked up for so long was that Hawthorne had been planning on going to school. They didn’t think they had a career in sociology, so they were looking at their MFA in creative writing. I think their Facebook page still lists their major as “Sociology and Pretty Writing.” They were not so prolific as I find myself, but each word was hand-selected, a quality gemstone for just the right setting. Like their return to music, however, picking up the pen again proved difficult; pain robbed them of the ability to think of much else, and the medications that took the pain away also stole the keys to their creativity. For those who continue to fight through incredible pain, it is a battle engaged on every front and facet of a person. It’s too easy to forget that if you aren’t facing it day after week after month. 

I didn’t pursue writing because I wanted to give Hawthorne the space to do so. They never asked; they never would have dreamed of it. Instead, I let my impossible standards transfer leak out. I worried that success was pie, and there was only so much to go around; what if we both weren’t successful? What if writing turned out to be something good and important for me (which, clearly, it’s integral) and they did not have a good experience? What would the fallout be? So without breathing a word of this into actual conversation, I decided the best way to support Hawthorne’s writing dreams would be to put mine aside. 

It’s only now that I am able to articulate this thought process. Whenever it came up before, I’d always brush it off; Hawthorne was the writer, I was the data person. Qualitative and quantitative, a perfect match. It was one aspect where I did not want to compete; I was afraid for what either success or failure would mean, and I could not see beyond that binary. It took losing Oscar to find that in me again. The world had crumbled, leaving dusty artifacts and oddly preserved opportunities to build anew. Some of those are in Hawthorne’s own hand; I have a crate full of their notebooks that I cannot open yet.

Today, through the wonders of both time and therapy, I know that it’s not just writing. I find myself excavating pieces I had thought lost, for one reason or another, usually ridiculously self-imposed based on what I feared other’s perceptions would be. Each discovery is wrapped in grief and guilt, and must be carefully exposed. It takes time for the relics of my dreams to be brought out into the light, time I know must be dedicated. 

Hawthorne would never have knowingly buried my dreams. They were my champion; they gave me the pushes I need to take new jobs, to go back to school, to apply to my dream program. Once I said I wanted to write, they were all in, and they were hurt by my surprise at that. I tried to explain it wasn’t them, that this view was completely fabricated in my head. I’m not sure they believed me. 

I am getting to the point where I can talk to them again. I look at their picture on my desk or on my phone. I awkwardly met someone recently who happens to be quite attractive, and one of my first reactions was, Hawthorne’s got to be getting such a kick out of this. Our friends agreed when I told them, after only a brief internal argument that it was too soon for me to see another person as attractive. Hawthorne and I would tease each other mercilessly when this would happen; why not now? I like to think it’s their laughter that shines the stars bright enough to break through the light pollution of the city, giving them that extra twinkle.

It’s a different day; I still don’t have my writing space set up, but I do have a couch. I’m writing in bed, in my bedroom sanctuary, free of (most of) the flotsam of moving. I have the fan on, since the heat from the house seems to settle here the most. I’m much more comfortable than when I started writing this post; the urgency is no less intense. I can hear what Hawthorne called the sound of mice tap-dancing as my fingers fly across the keyboard, trying to keep up with my thoughts and outrace the red lines of misspelled words. Lucy will wake up soon, and the day will begin. By the end of it, I’ll find scribbled notes to myself, quick lines of prose enmeshed with shopping and to-do lists. Tomorrow morning I will take the time to sort it out as I find some space between the half-empty boxes to park myself and write again.

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